You've got your financial planning in place to carry you through the rest of your earthly days. You've got a contract pending on a Jimmy Buffett-endorsed home in that new "Margaritaville"-themed retirement community in Florida. Hell, you've already got your cemetery plot picked out and purchased for when the time comes (hopefully many happy, healthy years from now). Clearly, you've got this retirement thing on lock — but how many of us ever plan for our retirement from driving?
No one wants to think about handing over their American Freedom Pass, which is to say their car keys. And why would they? Studies show that adults who have stopped driving are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility than those who remain behind the wheel. That said, the dangers of remaining behind the wheel too long are grave: According to AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than 200,000 drivers age 65 or older were injured in traffic crashes in 2016, and more than 3,500 were killed; meanwhile, older Americans are outliving their ability to drive safely by seven to 10 years.
The good news is that — not unlike that retirement account you've been investing in your entire career — if you invest some time and understandably uncomfortable conversations now about your future driving capabilities, according to AAA, you may actually be able to extend your time in the driver's seat past what it might've otherwise been.
Here are five tips AAA recommends for families to broach this difficult topic with their older driver:
1. Start Early, Talk Often
Remember that no one is getting younger — including you — so if you believe in karma on any level or just value the Golden Rule, you should treat the older driver with the same dignity you'll want for yourself when you're eventually in their shoes. Get the conversation going before it becomes a hot-button issue, make it an ongoing discussion, and keep the focus on ways to help them stay safe behind the wheel, in addition to highlighting other forms of transportation available to them.
2. Avoid Generalizations
Don't jump to conclusions about the older driver's skills or abilities. The point here is to plan ahead with constructive conversation, not to put them on the defensive with your own conjecture. (You might think to yourself, "How's my driving?" and ponder whether your own abilities would hold up to scrutiny.)
3. Keep It One-on-One
Let's not turn this into an episode of "Intervention." Inviting the whole family into the discussion may make the older driver feel ganged up on and alienated, so keep it between the two of you.
4. Focus on the Facts
Stick to the information you know, such as a medical condition or medication regimen that could impact safe driving as opposed to making assumptions about their abilities.
5. Plan Together
It's their life. Ensure they have an active role in planning for their own driving retirement.
The problem is that, like so many Americans who fail to save sufficiently for retirement, most don't plan to retire from the road. AAA research shows that the No. 1 reason older drivers or their families initiate a conversation about diminished driving abilities is the occurrence of a major safety issue, such as falling asleep at the wheel or difficulty staying within a lane, as reported by 65 percent of people surveyed. A traffic infraction or a crash is the conversation starter for about 15 percent of people. The least reported reason for talking about when it's time to hang up the keys? Planning for the future — reported by just 7 percent.
"AAA recommends that families start talking with older adults about safe driving early and avoid waiting until there are 'red flags' like crashes, scrapes on the car (from bumping into garages, signs, etc.), new medical diagnoses or worsening health conditions," the travel services organization said in a statement. "It is helpful to begin discussions when an older driver starts planning for other life changes, like retirement from work or moving to a new home."
"The best time to initiate a discussion with a loved one about staying mobile without a set of car keys is before you suspect there is a problem," said Jake Nelson, AAA director of traffic safety advocacy and research. "Planning for personal mobility and independence should be done working shoulder to shoulder with the older driver. Talking sooner, rather than later, can help set mutual expectations and reduce safety issues or emotional reactions down the line."
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